|Born||1st June 1964|
|Born at||Palghat, Kerala State|
|City of residence||Chennai|
Illustrated & Authored:
The complete list is tiring to make and boring to read. My illustrations are on more than 300 books, if you include magazine issues, covers, textbooks and comics.
|Bio||Ashok Rajagopalan was born into a truly rural family that migrated to the metro, but took its time adapting to new customs, lifestyle and technology. They never had cakes or balloons for birthdays or a need for fridges, air-conditioners or telephones. Just a big radio set. But there was plenty of paper, since Ashok’s grandfather ran a mail-order business. An unlimited supply of paper, scissors, pencils and glue helped Ashok take to art and craft at an early age.
His parents, other relatives and teachers were all responsible for his drawing and writing prowess. They either taught him skills or gave him appreciation. Both helped.
School was both, a blessing and a curse. Ashok hated enforced education; he always preferred to choose what to study, when to study and how long to study. He was in demand during events, with teachers needing charts, models, or ideas for projects. In that way, education helped create an artist and destroy any chance of Ashok becoming an academic genius.
College was a diploma course in Mechanical Engineering. New friends, and a Tamil-speaking culture as opposed to the English of his schools, opened out a brave new world. There Ashok taught himself to write skits, Tamil poetry, write and draw almost professional-looking comics, and illustrate short stories written by his friends. He also left no movie unwatched and there was no cinema in Chennai that Ashok and his gang of merry men had not patronised.
That was how school and college helped him become an illustrator and writer.
Ashok’s first jobs were in marketing and liason. Little did he realise then that these jobs were going to help him set up shop as freelance illustrator in the future. Finally, in 1989, he became a freelance illustrator.
Fantastic Five – Five of my favourite books
Leave it to Psmith – P. G. Wodehouse The best novel in the world! It is uplifting, funny, escapist, optimistic and, like any Wodehouse book, a textbook for plotting, style and humour.
Five go to Billycock Hill – Enid Blyton My first novel, I must have been ten, then, I think, so sentimentally the best book ever. Blyton needs no intro. Most of my heroes are prolific writers, by the way.
Swami and Friends – R. K. Narayan The first book that introduced me to the world of Indian writing in English. I was 12.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Caroll Never knew that nonsense could be celebrated this delightfully! Surreal magic!
Depths of Glory – Irving Stone The life of Pissaro, one of the Impressionists. Impressionism, like any art movement, was not just a style; it was a culture. This biography took me to the heart of the movement; helped me experience it.
Tell us about your earliest attempts at writing/illustrating. When, where and from whom did you learn the nittygritties of writing and illustrating?
Though I have been writing and drawing since kindergarten, I learnt to draw with professional materials at the ad agency I joined in 1988 – Password Process.
My first guru was Kota, the art director there. He also asked me to join the Loyola Institute of Visual Communication, then an evening course. I did. Paneerselvam taught us painting and drawing, while Ranjan De taught us graphic design.
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
Almost anywhere. From listening to people’s anecdotes, from movies and tv serials watched, from books read, from my childhood memories. I believe that almost
What does your typical work day look like?
Like no decent person’s working day. I draw, I write, I play computer games, I read, I take long walks: but
What is one habit / trait of yours that makes you effective / productive as an author/illustrator?
I was always a great reader; this helped me be a good illustrator.
I may not remember my 12- digit bank a/c number, but I remember the smells and sounds of kindergarten. Chalk, snacks, vomit, howling inmates and chanting teacher.
What is the one thing that you recommend every aspiring author/illustrator should do?
Always remember that a book is not fine-art; it is not just a medium for self-expression, but also a piece of communication. Text or pictures are, ideally, efficient tools of communication.
Tell us something about yourself that very few people know?
I can wiggle my ears like Mr. Bean! I taught myself that useless skill in my 7th standard. But not entirely useless; I discovered that
Does technology (the Internet, software tools) help you in your writing/illustrating process? If yes, can you tell us about them?
Of course, it does!
I started illustrating professionally at a time when the latest technology was a compressor and an airbrush, so I really appreciate how all those inventors work long and hard to help me take it easy. Software, hardware and the internet makes it possible for me to do work faster, learn new things, and correct goof-ups!
You know, a few years ago, I ‘wrote’ a 11000-word book by dictating it using speech-recognition software.
Is there any other way in which technology can help you in your work as writer/illustrator?
Yes, it keeps me my mind open and receptive to new ideas and me in learning mode most of the time. That helps keep my work fresh and alive!
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
P.G. Wodehouse – His writing not only inspired me to write, but also gifted me with a light-hearted attitude towards life, and a wish to spread “sweetness and light” through my work.
Enid Blyton – She wrote about 10,000 words a day in her best days!
J.K. Rowling – Gave children’s literature a much-needed booster dose and a status. No slacker, she continued to write those thick volumes when she could have just lived it up.
Tulika Publishers – Radhika Menon and Gang. Inoffensive activists for ‘One World for all,’ they consistently create books that raise the status of children’s books in India, and of the Indianness of literature for children.
Can you tell about what you are currently writing and other works in the pipeline?
Sure. Illustrating a book for Young Adults for Tulika Publishers, textbooks for Advent Book Company, activity books for Apple Publishing, weekly comic strip, ‘Meera,’ written by Anusha Parthasarathy for Young World…all at the same time!
Writing the third Gajapati Kulapati picture book for Tulika, finishing my funny novel, ‘Lemon Salt Soda,’ and plotting its sequel – all that by month-end. Which is year-end.
Just in jest! What if Bondapalli had been Vadavalli? How would the people have looked? Bonda was too convenient. wasn’t it?
‘What if’ is to children’s book writers as ‘What,’ Where,’ ‘How,’ ‘Why’ and ‘Who’ are to journalists, so it’s a fine question.
People and things would have been Vadaesque instead of Bondaesque, for one thing, and the story would taste different.
Speaking on behalf of the author, Shamim Padamsee, Bonda was not convenient, it was designed! But you are right, drawing Bonda people was easy, not inconvenient at all.
You seem to be illustrating for 25 years, writing for 4 years, for children and now for adults as well. How are you able to do this?
Because I believe that writing stories and drawing pictures for them is a form of communication. I am only putting down what I do in real life, everyday: telling funny stories to people of all ages.
Are you the first one to have written a game book in India? How did it happen?
Yes, I am, I think. As far as I know, that is so. It happened like this:
Sudeshna Shome Ghosh, then editor at Penguin India, asked me if I had any ideas for books, as illustrator. I told her that I also wrote and sent her the manuscript of ‘Ajit the Archer’. It’s about a girl, Ajita, who is teased and bullied for being skinny. She plays a virtual-reality game, where she is Ajit, a brave and skilful archer. Sudeshna asked me if I could turn it into a gamebook, since they were considering a series of Indian gamebooks. I told her that a gamebook’s plot has to have multiple options at every stage, like a computer game. I wrote Witchsnare, India’s first gamebook.
What are the differences between illustrating for one’s own story and illustrating for another person’s story?
There are advantages and disadvantages. When you illustrate your own story, you are totally in control. You know what to say through words, and what to say through pictures. It’s a dance of word and picture.
No surprises. Everything goes according to plan and expectation.
When you illustrate another person’s story, you have to be faithful to the text, and strive to interpret visually what the writer has in mind. The writer could be in for a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, after she sees the pictures.
I think it’s better the second way, since you have the benefit of the work of two creative minds. Also, I prefer duets to solos, and dancing with a partner as opposed to dancing all by myself.
Find me at
Offline: Home: a flat in Korattur, a sleepy suburb of Chennai.